Washington: A US federal judge in Texas blocked the Obama administration from enforcing new actions that were intended to expand restroom access for transgender students across the nation.
The order came as many of the nation`s public schools were preparing to begin the new academic year, and means they might not face federal sanctions if they choose to do nothing different to accommodate the restroom and locker room choices of transgender students, NBC news reported on Monday.
Thirteen states sued the federal government after the Education and Justice Departments sent a letter to schools nationwide in May, informing them that they honour the bathroom choices of transgender students and could risk losing federal education funds if they failed to do so.
Judge Reed O`Connor of Texas said the federal government failed to seek public comment first before issuing the letter.
The Obama administration argued that no such notice was necessary, because the letter was simply informing schools what courts and federal agencies had already determined.
The letter was not merely advisory, because schools "jeopardise their federal educational funding by choosing not to comply," O`Connor said.
O`Connor also said the federal law that bars public schools from discriminating on the basis of sex does not apply to transgender students. When the law was passed, "the plain meaning of the term sex," he wrote, "meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth."
The federal government is almost certain to appeal, especially because the judge said his order applies nationwide.
According to NBC news, the Justice Department had argued that such an order would improperly impose one court`s view on the many other courts wresting with the same issue "and on the many other states that have opted not to join this lawsuit, thereby preventing fuller development of the law on these important questions."
"The department is disappointed in the court`s decision, and we are reviewing our options," said Dena Iverson, a Justice Department spokeswoman.
Civil rights groups condemned the order.
Sarah Warbelow, Legal Director of the Human Rights Campaign, said it "puts thousands of transgender students at even greater risk of marginalisation, harassment, and discrimination as they return to school this fall."